PHOTO: Van's Cafe, from post card. This post card is likely from about 1941. It's a fine example of art deco styling, for sure! Typical copy on the back of these cards:

Description from the back of the card:

Located in BRAINERD, MINN., opposite the Tourist Information Tower on Highways 371 and 210 is
newly streamlined, remodeled and air-conditioned
Folks drive miles for VAN'S "Sizzling" steaks, fried chicken, home made chow, barbecued ribs and delicious TURKEY DINNERS served daily.

I'm sure Brainerd has had hundreds of fine eateries over the years, but I can find little of any in particular written about from the earlier years. Here I will try to list some of the more prominent ones, and add some history as I find it. Most of these are from more recent times, since I either remember them, or still eat there!

- A & W DRIVE IN: Once across from the DQ (see Steak'n Taters below), another in later years on 371 N.

-BARN, the: Washington St., still in operation.

-BROADWAY CAFE (BROADWAY LUNCH, 1951): 213 S. 8th. St., owned by John Vemos [City Directory, 1959]. Down from SA today/2009 is 8th. St. to the soiuth, but it's called Broadway to the north towards Wash. school. It's the one that is diagonal, and not directly north/south. Could 8th. St. at one time have been called Broadway all the way north to Wash. St., hence the name Broadway Cafe? At some point in time, perhaps even now, 8th. St. from Wash. south to at least Oak St. was actually the shortest state-aid HIGHWAY in the state, or so I've heard.

-CORNER CAFE: NE Brainerd, now/2005 the Magic Skillet. Also see PICTURES section.

-DAIRY QUEEN: On the river's edge, east end of the Wash. St. bridge, south side.

-Depot Lunch, later Van's Cafe. See/AKA NP Depot Lunch. See also Lunch Counter Depot.

-DINER, The: Washington St., across from Midtown Center.

-DUGOUT: This was in the basement of the Iron Exchange building, SE corner. Later moved to the basement of the Elks, renamed The New Dugout, later Papa C's. I'm not sure either of these served food.

-FROSTY CREME: Highway 210, corner of 10th. Ave. NE. See photo under Photo Albums.

-GEORGE'S CAFE: Was on Laurel St. I believe, owned by George (later "Real Estate") Bedard.

-GOLDEN GRILLE: Now/2007 The Medicine Shoppe building on Front St.. I used to frequent this nice little "greasy spoon" in the early 70's.. The chow mein was awesome. Judy was the best waitress in town!

-HARDEES: They were first in the present/2008 Mickey's building, which I think was one of our first chain fast food restaurants.

-JIMMY'S WAGON: 100 S. 6th. St. This was a mobile, yet "stationary" fixture in the 1950's, on the SW corner of the RR crossing at 6th. St. Listed in the 1951 City DIrectory.

-JOLLY TIME POPCORN STAND: 6th. & Laurel Sts. Listed in the 1951 City Directory.

-KING LOUIE'S: One of the first fast-food places I can remember in town, other than perhaps the A & W Drive Ins. Across from present-day West Side Cafe. According to Helen Roohr, Lou Mutch (married Thora Nygard) built it.

-LAND-O-LAKES CAFE & BAR: 213 South 6th. St., owned by George Drake & George Tsenes [City Directory, 1959] on the alley where the Northwinds Grille parking lot is now. I believe this is where the owner in the early 70's was called "__?__ the Greek". Also listed in the 1949 City Directory.

-LOG CABIN, LASSIG's: South 7th. St.. Expertly run by Everett Lassig.

-LUNCH COUNTER DEPOT: This is different from either NP Lunch or Depot Lunch, later Van's Cafe. This was listed in the 1888 BCD under Restaurants, but no address given, so I assume it means (like it indicates) it was the Lunch Counter, in the depot building. There is no listing however under Lunch Counter as a name of a business per se.

-MAPLE LEAF CAFE: South 6th. St.. This was next to and north of the First National Bank on So., 6th. St..We used to buy a lot of donuts to go there. At one time I recall Jerry "Lefty" Strobel owning it in the 1970's.

-NP Depot Lunch, later Van's Cafe. See/AKA Depot Lunch. See also Lunch Counter Depot.

-SCOTT'S: Lunch counter, in the Iron Exchange building.

-SMOKEY BILL'S: Towards the airport, 210 E. We went here as a family when I was a kid often, for ribs usually, but he also had great burgers. The ribs were smoked in an outdoor cooker out back daily. He later sold the business to his son George.

-SPAGHETTI JOE'S: Preceded Drop Inn, then Hasse's, then TuCata's, just before the airport. This is in the city limits of Brainerd now, but was not at the time. I remember going there as a kid and Vi taking the order, usually spaghetti, and hollering it clear from the floor to the kitchen, 50' away, at the top of her lungs! It could be heard in the next county. "Joe, 2 chickens, 1 rib, 1 burger 3 fries, 2 Cokes, 2 Grain Belts, hurry it up. Did you get that, Joe? Joe? D___it, Joe." After Vi died Joe sold the place to Art Dirk's, I believe. He then built another place up on Hwy. 25 N., towards Crosslake.

-STEAK'N TATERS (AKA the A & W Drive In): 520 West Washinton St., as listed in the 1959 City Directory, yet the 1956 one lists it as 7th. & Oak Sts. This was news to me! I know not which corner. ???

-VAN'S CAFE (now /2009 The Sawmill Inn/Embers for a short time): "By 1906 and only 13 years after the lumber industry in Brainerd began, the Brainerd Lumber Co. dismantled and moved parts of their mill to Canada. The vacant office stood on the NE site for awhile, until a Brainerd chef purchased it in 1908 and moved it to its present site. He moved it intact* and set it over the basement excavation on N. 6th. and Main Sts. started in 1888 by C. F. Kindred for his projected second Villard Hotel following a fire." [B75, 1946] Van's Cafe advertised for years "...across from the water tower", so it was named something else prior to 1923, but I'm clueless as to its history prior to Van's. See photo above. Also see PICTURES section.

3/24/2009: See the bottom of this page for more on this, and the ONGOING controversy as to how the building was moved.

-VOGUE, The: I think this was just above the Dugout, listed above, but I'm not sure on this one. Can someone help me out here?

-WOOLWORTH'S: Lunch counter.


-FLAME: No. on Hwy. 371, just past the racetrack.

-GEORGE & DORIS CAFE: No. on Hwy. 25 towards Crosslake. -HAROLD'S CLUB: In Baxter. -STARLIGHT: In Baxter.

Below is a good example of why I chose to use the word AMATEUR in this webite's title!

VAN’S CAFÉ building move question:

“In 1908, the former office building of the Brainerd Lumber Company in NE Brainerd was moved to the corner of 6th & Main. Was it moved intact, or in pieces?”

Here are some findings and thoughts from several folks which might lead one to the answer. Send me your opinion!


From the Brainerd Amateur Historians website:

VAN'S CAFE (now/2009 The Sawmill Inn/earlier Embers affiliation for a short time): "By 1906 and only 13 years after the lumber industry in Brainerd began, the Brainerd Lumber Co. dismantled and moved parts of their mill to Canada. The vacant office stood on the NE site for awhile, until a Brainerd chef purchased it in 1908 and moved it to its present site. He moved it intact and set it over the basement excavation on N. 6th. and Main Sts. started in 1888 by C. F. Kindred for his projected second Villard Hotel following a fire." [B75, 1946] (The B75 book is ‘Brainerd “75”’ by Carl Zapffe, written for Brainerd’s diamond jubilee.)

But now I don't know for sure, though it seems that the newspaper account (see IN PIECES below) would be the real deal, and CZ could have have read or related it wrong, if he read it at all, and ASSUMED it was moved intact. I don't know why though he would even put the word "intact" in the story at all if he didn't think it important. Most folks would assume a building would be moved intact. Also "setting it over the basement" seems to me to infer the thing went up, and down, in one piece. Too, he was in Brainerd already for 2 years coming here in 1906, so for all we know he was there during the move. If moving it in pieces I would have reported this as "re-assembling". It’s anyone’s guess what the reporter meant here by the “rather” statement. It could also just as well mean that his idea of re-erecting it meant that it was erected on a foundation once already when it was built new, then erected a second time on its second foundation, hence RE-erected. I wish I knew where I read they "moved it bodily"!

So, I for one am right back where we started...I just don't know (leaning towards CZ) and if it went intact, how'd it traverse the ravine? My guess is past the cemetery. See below for more on this under IN PIECES. I wonder if there was an account of this in another newspaper, if indeed there was more than one in town at the time. There may also very well be a photo taken of the event, which in 1908 should have been quite a spectacle!

There have been some errors found in CZ’s 1946 book, but not many. I have generally found it to be written in a very articulate fashion in regard to geographical and physical references. For instance, in the above-mentioned statement, look how much information he crams in to one sentence, MUCH more than would have been needed just to tell a nice story. It’s as if he knew that some 60 years later some amateur researcher would be using every word as evidence in some project. Here’s just one sentence:

-He moved it intact

-and set it over the basement excavation

-on N. 6th. and Main Sts.

-started in 1888

-by C. F. Kindred

-for his projected

-second Villard Hotel

-following a fire.

By this example one can see that he was very explicit in his wording, and included as many facts as needed to get the reader to understand exactly what he was trying to get across.

In the same 1946 book he relates the story of the Arlington Hotel being moved from ND:

“When R.R. Wise came to Brainerd in 1889, he brought with him his Arlington Hotel, in pieces, of course, previously used in North Dakota. He re-erected it on the southwest corner of 6th and Main, just a little northwest of the present railway depot.”

So here, he goes to the trouble to mention how it was moved, in pieces, but also adds that one would assume that [due to the great distance of the move I suppose]. But, he did use the phrase “in pieces” for this move, so I would think he’d use the same phrase in the same book in the move of the Van’s Café or any other building if it was indeed unassembled first, then re-assembled. Interestingly however, he used the term re-erected and not re-assemble, just as did the reporter in the 1908 Brained Dispatch article.


From a Brainerd Dispatch 1908 article:

"The work of erecting, or rather re-erecting the building
purchased by C. D. Herbert for a restaurant, commenced yesterday." So that might imply they were putting it back together after transporting it in pieces.

It says that the new owner "will move it down town and onto the lots at thecorner of Main and Sixth streets". It doesn't say or imply intact.

The argument for it being moved intact is further diminished by the fact that no viable, at least easy route for the move of such a large and heavy object can be found to ford the expansive and deep Ravine. The feeble Kindred St. bridge could not likely support it or fit it. To get to Norwood or Oak St. where the “Ravine Creek” carved very little ravine one would have to get it south of Kindred St. (now/2009 East Washington St.). The problem is that even the 1913 map does not show a north to south street or road such as the present 13th St., or any such southerly extension of Gillis Ave. at all, not to say that it didn’t exist and just was not an actual road to be mapped. The only other way over the ravine that far north was the RR track earthen fill or “bridge”, so it could have been move right over and along the tracks. Or, did they just move it down and up the ravine by brute force, either at the Kindred St. area or the cemetery road location? The latter would be a much more gradual slope in both directions, as you’ll see today if you travel the road to the south of the cemetery, now/2009 west to east as Evergreen Ave. to Terrace Ave.

Few streets were paved in 1908, especially in NE Brainerd, so did they attempt such a move on wheeled dollies on unpaved streets? Or, did they roll it on logs?

This is a conundrum. What do YOU think???

The above has been posted to the Brainerd Dispatch Forums, under Extras>Forums> Down Time>Brainerd Lakes Area History. You can post your comments there too.;f=37;t=000016


Since the thread was started, an entirely new scenario was presentd by a poster, offering a likely way of moving it intact by rail. Yet another local researcher has found articles in 2 different newspapers that indicate it was was moved in pieces.